Mike’s Blog: The Hot Springs of New Mexico

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/ Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.com/Search/Search.aspx?contractUrl=2&language=en-US&assetType=image&p=japanese+macaque

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/ Getty Images)

Among the many natural resources the state has to offer, few are as conducive to well being as the hot springs. Soaking in hot, natural waters, is one of the primal pleasures of humanity – a pleasure shared by many cultures, and even other species, as seen in the Macaque monkeys of Japan.

 

Some of New Mexico’s most fabled hot springs are found in the Jemez mountains, the resort town of Ojo Caliente, the historic pools of Montezuma near Las Vegas, and the artesian springs of Truth or Consequences.  A brief description of them should help the visitor decide which of these unique offerings might best fit their needs or itinerary.

 

Ojo Caliente is a true jewel of a town, located about 50 miles north of Santa Fe.  Named by the early Spanish explorer Cabeza De Vaca, the earliest description dates to the 16th century.

“The greatest treasure I have I found these strange people to possess,” De Vaca wrote, “are hot springs which burst from out of the foot of the mountain…. so powerful are the chemicals contained in this water that the inhabitants believe they were given to them by the gods.”

Barn-upstairs-empty72

Image of Round Barn from ojospa.com

Nestled in, and fully a part of the landscape, the hot springs of Ojo Caliente offer much to appeal to the visitor. The historical amenities offered by the resort include several buildings entered in the National Registry of Historic Places. These include the famous ‘Round Barn’ who’s unique architecture and design remain remarkably appealing to the visitor.

 

The hot waters of the town of Jemez Springs have tempted Santa Feans to make the trip for decades. Named for the nearbly Pueblo of Jemez, the small town offers numerous springs and bathhouses.  The atmosphere of the Jemez Valley is a special and spiritual one, being home to both Catholic monasteries and Zen Buddhism centers.

 

Retreats and spas are found throughout the valley, including a village owned non-profit spa whose proceeds are invested within the community. The Jemez Bath House is over a hundred years old and remains a hub for community life.

 

Visitors can also find numerous free natural springs throughout the valley and are advised to check visitor reports for current conditions here.

 

Truth or Consequences has become synonymous for misguided civic boosterism.  Originally named Hot Springs, after the myriad natural pools and springs, the city changed its name to that of a popular Radio show in 1950 as an effort to boost tourism.  The town contains numerous resorts and baths, though there are significantly fewer than there used to be.  Before World War 2, there were around 40 registered spas.  Today there are ten, all featuring the minerally rich and complex waters of the region.

 

Many of these resorts can be found here, and a discerning traveler should be able to find “The cure for what ails them” through judicial booking and soaking.

Image from ojospa.com

Image from ojospa.com

As you can see, New Mexico has many geothermal amenities for the visitor.  Assistance with booking or visiting any of these locations can be obtained through the Inn on the Alameda.  We can’t wait to hear about your epic NM hot spring soaks!

The White Fir

The healthy crown of a White Fir along the Chamisa Trail

It’s the time of year here in Santa Fe when an afternoon ramble in the mountains seems like the perfect way to refresh your spirits after a late breakfast, or a bout of Christmas shopping among the shops downtown. A fifteen minute drive from the Plaza will bring you to easy trails that wind through the mixed conifer forests so characteristic of the middle elevations of the Southern Rockies. Typically free from snow this time of year, and bathed in the warm slanted sunlight of the dry New Mexico winter, these trails invite you into a woods of surprising variety. And one tree which is sure to catch your eye is the White Fir Abies concolor.

This is the tree that makes the waxy blue note among all the other evergreens:

The distinctive silvery-blue to silvery-green needles of the White Fir

A closer look reveals ranked and upright needles curling from grey twigs. If you crush a few of these between your fingers, you’ll release the sweet balsamic fragrance of pineapples.

White Fir needles

Although the bark of young trees is smooth and grey, mature trees are clothed in a thick, rough, furrowed ashy-grey bark quite in contrast to the warm cinnamon-colored plates of their companion Ponderosas:

The bark on a mature White Fir

You almost never see these trees’ cones littering the forest floor. Perched high at the top of the trees and sitting upright in the manner of true Firs, the scales of White Fir cones disaggregate easily and fall unnoticed to the ground:

White fir cones

When the White Fir is free to reach for the sky unimpeded by neighboring trees, it takes on a distinctive ‘nose cone’ profile which frequent hikers come to recognize:

The profile of a tall White Fir along the Chamisa Trail

It’s hard to admit that such a fine tree could have a bad habit, but since it is reluctant to self-prune its dense whorls of branches, it often retains a skirt of dead wood right down to the ground. Ponderosa Pines, by contrast, are commonly as free of lower branches as a palm tree. These branches can act as fire ladders to carry flames up into the canopy during forest fires. On a less significant note, this also means that White Firs rarely invite you to sit under them, and while I have climbed high into Douglas Firs, and sheltered under Engelmann Spruce, I don’t think anybody except for a squirrel has climbed a White Fir:

The uninviting thicket at the base of a White Fir

When I think of fir trees, I picture boreal forests high on cold mountain peaks, making a last stand just at timber line. And indeed, in Colorado the slender Alpine Fir occupies this very position, as does the magnificent Red Fir of the Sierra Nevada, dominating the lofty granite ‘flats’ of those mountains. But the White Fir is happy at middle elevations, from 7500′ to 10,000′ in our Rockies, and  it drops out at greater heights, where the snow forest of Engelmann Spruce and aspen takes over. Like the Ponderosa Pine, it seems perfectly content with long dry summers as well as snow.

Young White Firs immediately put you in mind of Christmas trees. It’s that time of year, you know.

A young White Fir along the trail 

The most common Christmas trees sold by local families in Santa Fe are these firs, cut in the mountains east of us. Brought inside and transfigured by lights, ornaments, and love, the White Fir becomes the shining star of the Christmas season:

Christmas in Old Santa Fe

 


A Summer’s Day Hike to Nambe Lake

Nambe Lake, high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe

Summer weather opens up all of the wonderful high country hikes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe, and if you’re up for a more challenging trek, be sure and put the hike to Nambe Lake – the nearest alpine lake to Santa Fe – on your bucket list. You’ll need to be in more than average condition to reach the lake, which sits at an elevation of over 11,300 feet, but the actual hiking distance is only 3.3 miles from the trailhead at Ski Santa Fe, the jumping-off spot for most of the high country hikes around here. If you’re longing to be immersed in alpine scenery, this the the hike for you!

A glacial meadow above Nambe Lake

Wildflowers are everywhere now, and some of the Rockies most beloved species are showing off all along this climb.

Rocky Mountain iris with Western Swallowtail

Star Solomon’s Seal in shady places at the beginning of the hike

The elusive Calypso Orchid, in the aspen forest

All along the cascades of the Rio Nambe you’ll find this gem now:

A flash of purest magenta will catch your eye

This is the Bog Primrose, or Parry’s Primrose, one of the delights of the high country streams. Its color is amazing.

Parry’s Primrose, glowing above the burbling water of Rio Nambe

The cheerful little Elkslip brightens all the damp and boggy places:

Elkslip flowers by a streamlet of pure transparent water

If you have any energy left to climb up among the massive bouldery talus that borders the cliffs, you might be rewarded by the first blossoms of the true Queen of the High Rockies, the etherial Blue Columbine:

Rocky Mountain Columbine

The Rio Nambe accompanies you along the entire climb you make after you turn at the junction of the Lake Trail (400) off of the Winsor Trail (254) – a climb that will take you up 1000 feet in just about a mile, in a canyon choked with glacial moraine. The stream cascades endlessly from rock to rock:

Waterfalls along the Rio Nambe

A little over midway up the canyon, a boggy glacial meadow opens up and gives you a respite from the stair-mastering you’ve been enjoying previously. It’s our own little mini-Yosemite:

The first glacial meadow

and the creek here meanders lazily in deep trenches of purest water:

Corn lilies along the Rio Nambe in a meadow setting

Don’t be fooled however; you’ve got another massive step in elevation over a steep and bouldery trail to reach the lake.

It’s worth it:

Nambe Lake, looking up into the cirque

Lake Peak towers above the southern end of the lake:

The north face of Lake Peak

This is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a well-deserved break:

At the edge of Nambe Lake

The air here is fragrant with the balsamic incense of the Englemann Spruce which surround you on every side:

A grove of Englemann Spruce glowing in the alpine sunlight

Little details will catch your eye, like this patch of stonecrop clinging to a outcropping of gleaming white granite:

Stonecrop and granite

Every view here is captivating:

Nambe Lake, looking downstream

Now is the perfect time to plan this hike. The days are long and the summer thunderstorms of July and August haven’t set in yet. As I mentioned, this is not a walk to be undertaken lightly: although the distance is only 3.3 miles, you’ll make an immediate 800 foot elevation gain in the first mile of the walk, enjoy a leisurely descent back down toward the Rio Nambe, and then face a 1000 foot gain in the last mile of the hike, over two enormous bottlenecks of glacial moraine, the second of which holds back the lake. The trail is rough in places and even a little hard to follow in those sections where hikers have made alternative paths along Rio Nambe. It’s popular in the summer months, and you may not find that perfect solitude that we New Mexicans are accustomed to enjoying on many of our mountain trails.

But is sure is beautiful up there.

Awakenings

Agua es Vida

Spring has gathered all its momentum now and the forests above Santa Fe have shaken off their slumber and thrown aside the winter blankets for good. A short drive from downtown into, say Hyde Memorial State Park, with its well-kept trails into the woods, will bring you right into the heart of all this freshening activity. Morning and Springtime go together well, and one of the nicest things about Santa Fe is that you can have a pleasant breakfast in the comfort of town, and still reach a trailhead while it’s cool and quiet. And mystic. . .

I had an early morning walk there Sunday, well before the excitement of the evening’s solar eclipse, and I had hardly started breathing in the sweet air when I was startled by three deer bounding up a forested hillside. Ravens quonked overhead in the bright sky, soaring above the Ponderosa groves:

On the Circle Trail

In the cool shadows of the rocky cleft that leads to the waterfall in Hyde Park, new life is leafing out everywhere. The graceful and feminine Water Birches are completely awake, showing off their new clothes in the dappled light:

The Water Birch, Betula fontinalis

These little trees have a distinctive smooth grey bark and their presence always means water – hence the Latin name fontinalis.

The trunk of the Water Birch

The Mountain Ash, or Rowantree – that most magical of trees – is flowering streamside now,

The Rowantree

and the Cliffbush won’t be far behind:

Cliffbush

I call the Cliffbush the ‘tree of life’ because when it is in bloom, it seems to swarm with bees, butterflies, and insect life of every kind, sharing its vitality with all these small creatures.

Strawberry flowers – a wild rose – dot the path:

Wild strawberries

In shadier places the almost tropical-looking False Solomon’s Seal – a wild lily – raise their fronds from the forest floor:

False Solomon’s Seal

Deer and Raven, Groves and Fountains, the Rowan and the Tree of Life, the Rose and the Lily, the Seal of Solomon; in my mind at least, these spirits tangled into a kind of Springtime magic – a magic crowned by the Solar eclipse at sunset that evening.

Of course, we can’t promise you an eclipse on your visit with us, but we can send you out to receive the blessings of the Forest almost anytime you’re here. Come join us soon!

Springtime in the Rockies

Newly-leafed aspen among the conifers

It seems like I was just writing about icy trails and late winter snowshoeing, but suddenly there’s been a change of scene and the mountains are stirring with new life and issuing invitations to have a walk. The snow has vanished from the middle elevations of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and many of our most popular trails are free of ice and spangled with the first wildflowers of the season.

One of the most popular walks among visitors to Santa Fe is the Borrego-Bear Wallow loop, whose trailhead sits at an elevation of 8880 feet, squarely in the middle of the lovely mixed-conifer forest, immediately north of Hyde Memorial State Park. There’s free parking just off the the Ski Basin Road – NM 475 – and it’s only an eight mile drive from downtown Santa Fe. The loop itself is about a 3.2 mile ramble through a shady woods, with a 640 elevation loss/gain, and a sunny meadow at the bottom alongside Tesuque Creek perfect for a snack break or a picnic.

The sign at the intersection of Borrego and Bear Wallow Trails

The Borrego Trail drops down through a forest of Ponderosa, White Fir, Douglas Fir, and Aspen on its way to the Winsor Trail along Tesuque Creek, which you will take downstream until its intersection with the Bear Wallow Trail, which will take you back up to the trailhead.

The aspen are leafing out now, in a fresh yellow-green that contrasts vividly with the much darker evergreens:

Aspen along the Borrego Trail

Is there any tree more delightful than the aspen? It’s handsome in summer and winter, and it is exceptionally beautiful in the spring and fall. Would that we all passed through the seasons of our lives so gracefully.

White fir with grizzled grey bark grow along each of the trails, calling for your attention:

The mixed-conifer forest

These trees frame views of the higher ridges to the northwest:

The Sangre de Cristo

Meanwhile the forest floor is dotted with color and new life:

Red columbine are blooming all along the trails. Hummingbirds rejoice!

The exceptionally tough Creeping Mahonia

And the delicately-flowered Rocky Mountain clematis

One of my favorites peeks out this time of year:

The cheerful Canada violet

Meanwhile a variety of small deciduous trees send forth their first leaves and flowers:

Tiny flowers on the twigs of the lovely Rocky Mountain Maple

Tesuque Creek is singing with snowmelt:

Tesuque Creek at the midpoint of your walk.

It wasn’t too challenging this time, but you have to cross this stream twice to make the loop, and sometimes you have to be inventive. Here’s a picture of the Borrego crossing:

Kids LOVE this spot

On your ascent back up along the Bear Wallow Trail, you’ll pass one of my favorite trees, a Limber pine perched on a rugged outcropping of gneiss above Tesuque Creek:

Limber pine and Tesuque Canyon beyond

In that most delightful of nature books, “A Natural History of Western Trees“, Donald Culross Peattie writes “. . . and Limber Pines have a way of growing in dramatic places, taking picturesque attitudes, and getting themselves photographed, written about, and cared for. . . ” This specimen is no exception. It grows in a dramatic place, and I’ve enjoyed my tea in its shade many times.

So plan for a springtime walk in the mountains when you make your visit with us in Santa Fe. We can help you with lots of suggestions, and our neighbor, the Travel Bug, can supply you with maps and guidebooks of every kind.

New life

The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail

The Frey Trail descending into Frijoles Canyon, seen from the Overlook

Even after years of visiting the park, I’ve discovered that Bandelier National Monument still has pleasant surprises concealed within its boundaries. Bandelier is one of the most popular day trips out of Santa Fe, just about an hour’s drive west of town, and most visitors feel amply rewarded with an excursion to the cliff dwellings in Frijoles Canyon, and the pleasant walks along the little Rito de Frijoles, burbling in the shade of the singing Ponderosa pines and the warm glowing walls of the Bandelier Tuff. But the park has an extensive network of trails throughout its bounds, and some of these are easy walks that give a different perspective on the way the Ancient Ones lived – and which will reward you with some wonderful views of Frijoles Canyon and the archeological sites it shelters.

This Sunday’s adventure started near the old Amphitheater not far from the entrance to the Park. On my last visit to Bandelier I walked down the Frey Trail, which is the pre-1939 way of getting down into Frijoles Canyon, and at the brink of the descent, admired a precipice of Bandelier Tuff off to the west:

Descending into Frijoles Canyon on the Frey Trail

A closer look at the map showed another trail not far from this one, that actually leads to the top of this cliff. It’s called the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, and of course I immediately made a mental file to have a walk on it on my next visit to the Park. This past Sunday was a perfect opportunity for a winter hike on the sunny flanks of the Jemez Mountains, and after throwing a few things in the day pack, made the short drive west to Bandelier and the Juniper Campground just inside, where the trail begins.

The sign at the trailhead

Your walk begins in a grove of fragrant Ponderosa:

Off on our adventure

Much of the walk winds across the dry, sparsely wooded top of the plateau just north of Frijoles Canyon, which still shows signs of stress from our drought around 2005. There are a surprising number of archeological sites up here, with small interpretive signs to enhance your stops:

Partially excavated ruins just off the Tyuonyi Trail, up on the mesa

There are more modern cultural features up here too, like this rustic corral:

A corral near the old CCC Amphitheater

Distant views of the volcanic mountains that surround Bandelier lie off to the south and west:

The San Miguel Mountains and sharp Boundary Peak southwest of Bandelier

In only 45 minutes of easy walking you reach the Overlook, perched high above the ruins of Tyuonyi Pueblo:

Looking down from the Overlook at Tyuonyi and the Visitor Center

This is a perfect place to sit and contemplate the vast history, cultural and natural, of old New Mexico.

Contemplating the past

The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail loops back to the trailhead across the mesa so you don’t have to retrace your steps back to the Amphitheater. There are beautiful views up Frijoles Canyon:

Looking west up Frijoles Canyon

And dizzying ones down:

Just above the ladders to Alcove House, looking down

Bandelier, like all National Parks and Monuments, is a wild place at heart, and evidence of the more brutal side of Nature isn’t hard to find:

A murder site along the trail, thoroughly picked over

Past and present mingle to thoughtful eyes. Modern pine cones holding new life lie over a bed of the Cajete Pumice that showered over the mesa perhaps only 40,000 years ago:

Pine cones and pumice littering the mesa

The return trail winds through an airy forest of Ponderosa before returning you to your car:

Fire and drought-thinned forest typical of the Pajarito Plateau

This was a very rewarding walk, and a perfect one for a late winter day in New Mexico when you need to get out for some sunshine and exercise, but don’t feel like facing the icy and somewhat muddy trails in Sangre de Cristo Mountains nearer Santa Fe. So be sure and put the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail on your mental list of things to do when you come visit us!